Rebecca Hamilton is a former pro-abortion activist and leader. As the Oklahoma Director of NARAL, she helped establish the first abortion clinic in Oklahoma, and she continued her activism after being elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. After experiencing a profound conversion to Christ, voters returned her to office as a pro-life Democrat and she spent twelve years defending life and families in the Oklahoma Legislature. Rebecca left her political career in 2014, and along with the National Catholic Register, she writes at Patheos on her blog Public Catholic.
I am having surgery next Monday to learn whether or not my cancer has spread.
Docs in movies know what is wrong and what to do about it at jump street. Or, if they don’t get it at first glance, they engage in heroics and ultimately figure it out.
Movie medicine has nothing to do with real-life medicine as I have experienced it this past year and a half. Cancer diagnosis is more like playing a game of Clue. The “diagnosis” changes at each office visit, and in my case, it tends to slide downhill with each new reveal.
Take my current situation as a for-instance. I went through a hard week of thinking the cancer had spread, only to be told that — hooray! — “It” was benign. Then, after a wonderful weekend of thinking I was ok, my main doc called and said, “This report doesn’t make sense.”
I went back in and, after looking at the possibilities, we decided to go in, and get the thing. It was the only way to be sure.
My doc’s concerns were simple. This thing is big, and it’s growing. It’s growing fast. Three months ago, it wasn’t there. Then, three weeks ago, it was 2 centimeters. Now, it’s — I know this from checking it quite a lot — obviously bigger still. It’s gotten big enough that I can see it through the skin when I look in the mirror.
The diagnosis on that report does not jibe with those facts. Given my personal history the cancer possibility is too real to ignore.
She offered me the old “we could watch it” solution, but I demurred. I mean, “watch it” do what? I think she knew, after dealing with me for so long now, what I would decide. Let’s get the thing out of there. I want to know if I can walk away from this and live for a while, or if I’m looking at advanced cancer.
The surgery I’m facing is much easier than the things I’ve been through already. When you look at these things from a perspective like mine, a surgery like this seems more like an inconvenience than a perilous journey.
Still, it is surgery. It means hospital, IVs, going under anesthesia, waking up with a knife wound and days of being sore, not lifting, not raising my arms above my shoulders and all that stuff.
I’ve read stories on some of the cancer boards of women who claim they practically hopped off the table after one of these things and went straight out and run a marathon. They brag a lot — one woman claimed she had to have her husband start the mower because she was so sore, but then she mowed the lawn, which raises the question, What kind of husband does she have who let her do that? Another said she went straight from the hospital to work.
I don’t know if they’re lying, but the thought has occurred to me. Whatever the truth, I can tell you that I will be down from this for at least a week; not flat on my back and moaning down, but watching TV, taking pain meds the first day or so and lazing around down.
I won’t even try to lift my precious granddaughter — which is the worst of it for me — and I will switch to a small purse, buy half gallon jugs of milk instead of gallon and not — this part isn’t so bad — vacuum, empty the dishwasher or scrub out the bathroom sinks.
None of this — except the granddaughter part — matters much to me. I’ll get over this in just a few days. I don’t like surgery, but if it frees me from thinking that I’m out of time almost totally, then it’s an excellent trade.
What has been difficult for me is processing the abrupt reminder that I’m camping out on the rim of a snake pit, and I can never move away from it. This is my life.
I’ve thought a bit about the what-ifs of a bad diagnosis and, as usual, I found that the only way to handle them was through prayer. I do not know how those poor people who have turned their backs on Jesus get through these things.
There is nothing special or unique about my situation, except, perhaps, for the excellent care I receive from my doc and the wonderful nurses at that hospital. I am in the hands of a doc who practices at a hospital that was founded and is run by an all-woman team of doctors. It’s a hospital by women and for women. The difference between it and other hospitals is daylight and dark.
Even in the midst of this illness, I am blessed to have wonderful care, a loving family and friends who only ask me “What can we do for you?” I am going through what everyone goes through sooner or later, which is a failure of my body, but I’m doing it in blessed style.
Despite all that goodness, I could not make it without Jesus. It’s not easy, looking at the slash-burn-poison treatments we use on cancer patients and applying their miseries to myself. It’s also not easy to know that I will ultimately have to give up my life. Life is so beautiful, the life force so strong, that facing its ending is sad.
Everything that lives fights for life. It’s programmed into us by our Maker. This drive of life to live is necessary because life can be tough, and if living beings didn’t have this will to stay alive, there would be no living beings. We would, all of us, from the lowliest paramecium to you and me, just lay down and die.
That life force comes barreling out when our lives are threatened. We want to live. You want to live. I want to live. And yet, we are mortal. Finite. Bound to die.
Alone of all creation, we humans know this. We experience sickness, threats to our lives and dying itself with the exquisite keening knowledge of what is happening to us. We don’t just react to threat to our lives like an insect running from an attacker. We know. We understand. We comprehend absolutely what is happening to us.
We not only understand what happens as it happens, we anticipate that it will happen. We know that we will have an end and that, so far as this life is concerned, that end is absolute.
This knowledge has the power to shape our lives in wonderful ways. It can motivate us to do great and good things with our time. But, if we deny the full reality of who and what we are and limit our understanding of ourselves to the physical, it amputates meaning from our existence and shoves us back down to the level of that insect, running from a threat.
Life without Christ is meaningless. Dying without Christ is hopeless.
After my conversion, I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit to infuse daily existence with meaning and purpose. I saw that life in Christ is much more than a get-out-of-death-free card. It is life abundant in this life, as well.
That applies just as much to what I’m going through now as it did when I was raising my babies or making laws. Our lives — all our lives — have meaning. Even when the devil intrudes on our lives through the monstrous actions of evil men, even that, has meaning when it is united with the Cross.
Even the hairs on our heads are numbered. We are precious in His sight. And our illnesses, setbacks and sufferings can be lifted up from the suffering of a dumb animal to the transcendent plane of redemption.
For a few days last week, my thinking wandered in the existential jungle of cancer treatment. That was not pleasant. Then, I remembered that I had help. All I had to do was ask.
My prayers are not eloquent or fancy. I learned a long time ago that what God wants from us is authenticity and humility. He wants our love and trust. You can’t flatter God, and you can’t manipulate Him. But you can talk to Him. You can snuggle up against the Holy Spirit and just … talk.
That is how I pray. Throughout this illness, my recurrent prayer has been “You’re going to have to help me Lord. I can’t do this without you. Give me courage, give me the peace that passes all understanding. Walk with me. Be with me. Do no leave me alone.”
He has answered this prayer every single time I’ve prayed it. He has showered down graces on my head like raindrops. I’ve walked on a solid roadway of grace throughout this illness.
I have learned so much about the love and faithfulness of our Heavenly Father. Jesus loves me. And I can rely on Him. That is what I know. It’s all I need to know to walk this way. It’s all any of us needs.
Please pray for me as I walk this way. Know that I read your comments to my various posts, and then I pray for you, each and every one of you.